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Preview: Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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The Denver Nuggets will look to start their three-game home stand the right way with a win against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are set to begin a three-game home stand tonight as they look to win their first home game of the season. In order to do so, they must defeat a team in the Portland Trail Blazers that is overachieving in their new role as underdogs. The Nuggets are coming off a loss against the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Friday night, while the Blazers played last night at home against the Detroit Pistons, losing 120-103 in a game they blew in the fourth quarter.

The Blazers and Nuggets had polar-opposite offseasons in regards to the direction the two teams seem to be headed in for the future. Nuggets fans became encouraged after drafting Emmanuel Mudiay and then bringing in Nikola Jokic from overseas. These moves, combined with a new coaching staff and re-signings of multiple key players, created a buzz around Denver that was hard to ignore following an abysmal 30-win season. Meanwhile, the Blazers had just come off a 51-win season in which they finished fourth in the West. However, a depressing offseason in which they lost three starters to free agency (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez) quickly created the expectation that this team was bound for the lottery. In short, the Nuggets' direction seemed to be skyrocketing, while the Blazers' was plummeting downwards at an unbelievable rate.

As we all know, though, teams can surprise us, and that's exactly what the Blazers have been doing so far. They've started the season with a 4-3 record despite having a seemingly lackluster roster, and they definitely do not appear to be a team that will finish 14th or 15th in their conference. Dominating performances from Damian Lillard and the rise of C.J. McCollum have allowed the Blazers to come out of the gate better than expected. It will take a big effort from Denver to get the job done tonight in order to finally reward fans in attendance with a win.

The Basics:

Who: Portland Trailblazers (4-3) at Denver Nuggets (2-4)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Where to Watch: Altitude

Enemy BlogBlazer's Edge


Portland Trail Blazers Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Damian Lillard Emmanuel Mudiay Trail Blazers
SG C.J. McCollum Gary Harris Trail Blazers
SF Al-Farouq Aminu Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Meyers Leonard Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Mason Plumlee
Joffrey Lauvergne Even
Bench Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless Jameer NelsonDarrell Arthur, Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Randy Foye

Nuggets

Injured Players: Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (out), Joffrey Lauvergne, back (questionable), Gerald Henderson, hip (out)

Key Matchup: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Damian Lillard

The pressure was on Lillard to start this season after losing his sidekick Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs. Of the five players that started the majority of the 2014-15 season for the Blazers, he's the only one left. So far, Lillard has been handling the pressure well, averaging 27.1 points and 7.3 assists. Mudiay, meanwhile, has had pressure on him from the get-go as he's been handed the keys to the franchise at the young age of 19. Fresh off a matchup against reigning MVP Stephen Curry, it doesn't get much easier for him as he will have to defend a two-time all-star in Lillard. It's one more opportunity to see our point guard of the future match up against an elite point guard of the present.

Things to Watch: Rising star C.J. McCollum and the bench matchup

McCollum is already the favorite to win Most Improved Player of the Year after a stellar start to the season. He's averaging 21.6 points, 3.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds, making it obvious that he's a star in the making. In the Blazers' first game of the season, he scored a career-high 37 points, 22 of which came in the first quarter. Gary Harris will most likely be asked to guard him much of the time tonight, and it will be interesting to see how our rising defensive star matches up with a probable future all-star. If the Nuggets can make it so that both Lillard and McCollum do not have a big game tonight, then the chances are good they will come away with a win.

Also, watch how the Nuggets' bench competes against a weakened and shortened Blazers' bench only consisting of four rotation players. The Nuggets should have the advantage in this category.

Key Question: Can the Nuggets quicken the pace against a team on the second night of a back-to-back, as they were unable to do against the Utah Jazz last week?